Making Representation Fair for Indigents

By: Bill Martens
By: Bill Martens

"There's a constitutional right to have an attorney, and if you're too poor to hire one, one should be provided for you," says Mike Moran, a public defender in Marathon County, and it's been your right since 1963.

But try telling someone who makes just $250 a month that they make too much money to get a public defender. Meanwhile, they can't pay for a lawyer themselves, so they're stuck, but a new bill could change that.

"The fair thing to do is have proper modern day standards of what indigency is, have those people represented by the public defender who is a state employee," says Marathon County Judge Patrick Brady. "They just need to play catch-up."

Right now, your annual income has to be smaller than $3000 to get a public defender. You can still get one, though, if the judge says it's OK, but then that's paid for by the county in the form of your property taxes.

The new bill will raise the threshold to over $10,000, making more people eligible, and shifting the financial burden to the state. With more people qualifying as indigents, an estimated 44 public defenders would be hired to serve.